Two weeks ago, the LRE Forum 2023, organised by the LRE Foundation and LRE Italy with the contribution and patronage of Regione Toscana and Toscana Promozione Turistica, was held in the picturesque city of Florence. For three days, events and activities brought together a variety of international members and partners of the organising institutions, as well as tourism stakeholders from across the World War II remembrance sector.
We are extremely grateful for the considerable turnout at all the Forum events. Indeed, one of the main goals of the LRE Foundation is to bring together international WWII memory stakeholders to facilitate international cooperation and multi-perspective discussion on WWII history and remembrance. It makes us proud to see that this goal was reflected in our annual gathering.
The welcome cocktail
The LRE Forum 2023 began on Thursday 28th February, with a welcome cocktail on the B-roof, the famous Hotel Baglioni’s rooftop. This beautiful venue welcomed us with one of Florence’s most breath-taking views. Rémi Praud, LREF Managing Director, and Carlo Puddu. LRE Italy Director, greeted all LREF members and partners with welcome speeches, officially opening the LRE Forum 2023.
The Member Seminar
The Member Seminar began the following day at the Auditorium al Duomo. During the first part of the event, Rémi Praud and his team spoke to LREF members and partners about the LREF Governance and Network, discussing the latest news on the Foundation’s National Branches, the Member Council, and the LRE Guide Network. The LRE Foundation Team, alongside project partners’ representatives, then provided updates on some of the most important LREF projects, including the Liberation Route Europe Hiking Trails, Europe Remembers, the LRE Youth Programme, and “Resistance Through Their Eyes” project. Later, some members and partners presented their organisations’ best practices and most recent news. Finally, Jordi Guixé, Scientific Director of the European Observatory on Memories, led a thematic session on the diverse challenges of WWII Memory in Europe.
The LRE Conference
That same afternoon, the LRE Conference welcomed more than 110 participants from all over Europe and North America. The event was moderated by British author and historian, Keith Lowe, and opened with a keynote speech by Georgiy Kasianov, Head of the Laboratory of International Memory Studies at Maria Curie-Skodowska University in Lublin. Professor Kasianov spoke about the use and abuse of WWII Memory and its repercussions in the Ukraine Region, in Europe, and globally.
This speech was followed by a panel debate on the complex relationship between nationalism and WWII memory. The panel featured Áron Máthé, Deputy Chair of the Committee of National Remembrance of Hungary, Guri Schwarz, Professor of Contemporary History at the University of Genoa, Jade McGlynn, researcher at the Department of War Studies, Kings College, and Kees Ribbens, Professor at the Institute for War, Holocaust, and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam. It was fascinating to hear various approaches and points of view on such a complex subject.
For the second part of the LRE Conference, the main topic was the political pressures that museum curators and museologists must contend with in order to frame WWII memory in a particular way. The panel discussion included current and former museum directors such as Gundula Bavendamm, Director of the Documentation Centre for Displacement, Expulsion, and Reconciliation in Berlin, Paweł Machcewicz, Professor at the Institute of Political Studies in Warsaw, and Kaja Širok, researcher at the University of Nova Gorica’s School of Humanities.
To conclude the conference, Keith Lowe interviewed Katrin Himmler, German author, Political Scientist and great-niece of Heinrich Himmler, head of Hitler’s SS. During the interview she discussed how crucial it was for her to confront her family’s story honestly, how her research changed her perspective on her relatives, and the significance of her work with students and young people.
The Gala Dinner
The second day of the LRE Forum 2023 concluded with a Gala dinner at the luxurious Palazzo Borghese. The stunning palace halls formed the ideal setting for presenting and welcoming the LRE Foundation’s new members and partners, networking, and enjoying each other’s company over some delicious Italian cuisine.
The LREXPO and Site Visits
On 2nd March, the LRE Forum 2023 continued with the annual thematic trade show, the LREXPO, allowing Foundation members and partners to connect and showcase their destinations to international tour operators and travel trade stakeholders. The EXPO was followed by the first part of the site visits. Participants visited the Museo Gotica Ponzalla at Giogo Pass, and then a surprisingly snowy Futa Pass for a visit to the German Military Cemetery. The weather made for an atmospheric visit, imagining the troops enduring so much in similar conditions during WWII. On the second day of site visits, participants had the opportunity to see the Florence American Cemetery, explore the Military Geographical Institute Florence, and participate in a Florence WW2 City Tour.
Aside from site visits, FAM trips were organised for both European and North American tour operators. Following the Italy part of the FAM trip, which included visits to the Florence American Cemetery, the Museum of Memory in Borgo a Mozzano, Lucca, and the Gotica Ponzalla Museum, tour operators from the United States and Canada then continued the trip from to the Netherlands and Belgium. Here they were greeted by several museums, hotels, and attractions along the Liberation Route Europe. This extended FAM trip was organised in collaboration with the European Travel Commission (co-funded by the European Union) and included visits to the Liberation Garden Museum in Leopoldsburg, Geronimo Museum, Fletcher Hotel Erica, the Canadian War Cemetery and Freedom Museum in Groesbeek, the beautiful Kröller-Müller Museum, and Gemeente Apeldoorn.
We would like to express our gratitude to all attendees and supporters for helping to make this edition of the LRE Forum particularly special. We sincerely hope you had as wonderful of a time in Florence as we did, and that you returned home feeling inspired by the events and armed with fresh perspectives on how to raise awareness of World War II and make history more approachable to a wider audience.